Release Date: Sep 22, 2017
Record label: Island
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
The Killers have never been a band short on ambition. Over the past decade and a half, they’ve managed to create more iconic indie anthems than you can shake a pint of snakebite at, all while constantly shifting and growing into the stadium-commanding outfit they are today. Looking back on the ‘00s eyeliner-clad new wavers in contrast to their current guise, it’d be easy to believe that the Las Vegas band could simply kick back, set the dial to ‘bombastic’ and throw out another record.
Recent departures from the Killers’ touring lineup have led Brandon Flowers to steer the ship through personal and global storms. On the band’s first album for five years, the frontman sounds as if he is howling in the face of an oncoming hurricane of mid-career panic, cheating senators and “fake news”. Guitars rage, electronic noises shriek.
The title fight between Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas that the standout track from The Killers’ fifth album is named after was one of boxing’s most legendary upsets, in which a 42-1 outsider KO’d the self-styled ‘Baddest Man on the Planet’ to become heavyweight champion of the world. You might assume – given Brandon Flowers’ well-documented love of one-horse towns, dustland fairytales and American dreamers – that ‘Tyson vs Douglas’ would be written from the underdog’s perspective, punching up, but in fact it’s the opposite: the song is about the fear of his own kids seeing him knocked down and usurped, just like Iron Mike was on that fateful night in Tokyo. Heavy lies the crown, but Flowers still guards it jealously..
Their 2004 debut Hot Fuss was a tangle of flawed characters and ambiguous storylines, with Brandon Flowers cast in the centre as its wide-eyed unreliable narrator. Even their explorations of Americana on its follow-up, Sam’s Town, were sideways critiques of so-called ‘authenticity’. They arrived fully formed, and from the outset they have understood the mechanisms of pop as well as they have understood how to write a pop song. What makes The Killers extraordinary is how this exquisite performance is met almost paradoxically with an unerring earnestness – both from the band themselves, and the audience.
The Killers have a formula that works for them. Every album has a handful of tracks that are the greatest thing you’ve ever heard, a perfect arrangements of chords and guitar licks and magic that sets off all the right vibrations in your brain, pillowed by a few tunes that eventually grow on you and the rest as little more than forgettable melodrama. Wonderful Wonderful carries on this tradition, with “The Man” and “Tyson vs. Douglas” as the standouts, a pair of unshakable songs that join “Smile Like You Mean It,” “When You Were Young,” and “Miss Atomic Bomb” as moment-defining soundtracks.
Nearly one year ago, the Killers celebrated the 10th anniversary of Sam’s Town with a pair of concerts in their hometown of Las Vegas. Although their 2006 sophomore effort was as divisive as it was ambitious, it remains the band’s best front-to-back album. You can hear them chasing the ghost of Sam’s Town on Wonderful Wonderful — their fifth album and first since 2012’s Battle Born — which reunites the quartet after a recording hiatus during which both frontman Brandon Flowers and bassist Mark Stoermer released solo LPs while drummer Ronnie Vannucci dropped another full-length with side project Big Talk.
Brandon Flowers spent most of the promotional tour for the fifth Killers’ studio album apologizing for the fourth one. Back in July, he told NME that the band’s previous record, Battle Born, was “aimless,” declaring he “wasn’t happy” with it. All this was to say, the next record, the aptly titled Wonderful Wonderful, would be different: better, directed, less bad, something.
Over a decade on from the success of their debut album Hot Fuss, The Killers’ fifth album sees them return with legacy on their mind. The idea cropped up while lead singer Brandon Flowers, has promoted Wonderful Wonderful, the Las Vegas band’s new record. “The older you get, the more you’re conscious of time and how limited it is,” Flowers admitted in a recent interview. “The megalomaniac in you says, ‘Well, what kind of mark have I left?’” One song, the rather Marmite Mr Brightside, has long ensured The Killers will be played at grotty indie dancefloors across the globe for years to come..
The title of the Killers' first LP in five years is sly, with its echo of the "wunnerful, wunnerful" signature of iconic "champagne music" accordionist Lawrence Welk, another shameless crowd-pleaser critics loved to shade. But what do we know? The Killers have made a huge career as bombastic rock magpies working the border between flamboyant earnestness and full-on camp, strategically declining full residency in either locale. What's great about Wonderful Wonderful, though, is that they seem in on the joke, doubling down on their hugeness fetish while wink-winking their way to the bank.
For better or worse, the Killers have always worn their hearts on their sleeves. The band takes their right to be ridiculous seriously, and they specialize in songs that blur the line between earnestness and pomposity. There are no deep secrets to their songs, because it.
The Killers were in need of redemption. While glittery rock numbers like “Somebody Told Me” and “Mr. Brightside” remain karaoke staples to this day, the Brandon Flowers-fronted band has done a remarkable job in the past several years of whittling down their fanbase to nothing but the absolute core. Yes, 2012’s Battle Born debuted high on the charts and helped sell a bunch of tour tickets, but it was also their most critically ravaged release to date, and still their lowest-selling album by a Vegas mile, resulting in zero performing singles from a band that was known for delectable, danceable singles.
Reintroducing a little electronic hauteur to the airpunch anthemics of 2012’s Battle Born, the Killers’ fifth album opens impressively with the reptilian title track, reminiscent of Achtung Baby-era U2, and the glossy, ironic funk of The Man. Misgivings hover, though, around frontman Brandon Flowers overcoming writer’s block by drawing on his initially reluctant wife’s abusive childhood and PTSD (and enlisting their three young sons to sing “Can’t do this alone/ We need you at home” on the airy, dreamy Some Kind of Love). The most striking song (discounting the Personal Jesus reenactment The Calling) draws on Flowers’ own childhood experience: the surging, synth-laced Tyson vs Douglas, inspired by his shock when the champ hit the mat, could touch gloves with the band’s best.
They say you play the John Peel Stage twice in your career, once on the way up and once on the way down'. That was how Brandon Flowers (albeit jokingly) summarised The Killer’s current trajectory during their hugely successful secret set at Glastonbury earlier this year. A couple of weeks later, they were the only act to sell out their BST Hyde Park concert; it was a hell of a party.
I’d like you to close your eyes and see if you can picture where you were when you first heard Battle Born. A blank slate, right? Well that same cloud of overwhelming indifference has been surrounding The Killers for three consecutive releases now. After the sharp, noticeable decline between the overzealous but entertaining Sam’s Town and it’s glitzy, substance-less successor Day & Age, it’s been a streak of mediocrity so potent that one would be hard-pressed to recall anything worthwhile that they’ve done since 2008.
The Killers are the kind of band that will likely always have a following. That's just how mega of an album Hot Fuss was when it came out in 2004. The record has sold over seven million copies worldwide to date, is still on rotation in many circles, and still brings masses to see them perform. The band played over 140 shows in support on their last album, 2012's Battle Born, despite the album not having too many memorable singles.
At last I know: George Herbert is Brandon Flowers’ Rosetta Stone. Writing from the point of view of an object of sacramental importance or as Jesus Christ himself, Flowers presents himself as love flesh requiring worship. (He’s in good company: Madonna liked Herbert too). I’m straining because two months after its release “The Man” sounds no less preening and absurd.
Like most Las Vegas exports, the Killers are a high-risk, high-reward proposition. One minute, they're knocking out arena-rock anthems with the best of them, the next they're sinking under the weight of Brandon Flowers's rock-star preening and fumbling grasps at profundity. Even Flowers had to admit that the band's last record, 2012's "Battle Born," wasn't quite up to their standards.
Meet Me in the Bathroom, Lizzy Goodman’s excellent book on the New York rock renaissance of the 2000s, features a chapter dedicated to the Killers. Though they’re from Las Vegas rather than New York, Goodman and the experts she quotes argue that the Killers took the New York sound to greater popular success than the Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, or any other band ever did. Journalist Marc Spitz says, “The band that wanted it, and were fucking ready for it, were the Killers.” By all accounts, the Killers have gotten what they wanted.
You can already picture the stirring title track from The Killers’ fifth record being used as a melodramatic opener for their upcoming arena tour. The lights go down, the cinematic sultry horns ring out over pounding drums for a good few minutes. Brandon and co. are walking on new terrain. While being far too reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’, ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ opens up into an epic chanted chorus.